'Tis the season to be gaming, which is why most major video games are released in the run-up to Christmas. But the deluge makes it hard to decide which games to get your kid, especially considering age-appropriate really depends on your individual child.
Mature-rated games really are for mature gamers, and we'll have an adult gamer gift guide coming soon, but rest assured that all but one of these video games are geared towards younger players and rated E for Everybody or E10+, meaning their violence level is either cartoonish or non-existent. The one T for Teen rated game is slightly more violent, but has an educational underpinning.
Nintendo is still the medium's most child-friendly game-maker (as they have been since I was a child), but there are plenty of Playstation and Xbox games made with younger audiences in mind, too.
Batman 3: Beyond Gotham (Multiplatform)
Over the past decade, Lego went from the edge of bankruptcy to become the world's biggest toy (buh-bye Barbie) and the Danish brickmaker's resurgence began with their move into licensed video games.
By this point, the Lego video games have settled into a formula -- a mix of light platforming, environmental puzzles and cartoonish combat with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour -- but much like real-world Lego the formula works so why muck with it? This third entry in their Lego Batman series is once again a Justice League game in all but name. There are 150 playable characters (with more coming in downloadable content) as you follow the storyline from the Bat Cave to outer space.
It's a lot more linear compared to Lego Batman 2's open-world Gotham, but that arguably makes it easier to manage for younger kids. The game is also full of DC lore Easter eggs (Bat-Mite! Adam West!) for nerdy parents, too.
It also happens to be the best co-op game on the market for kids, so your child can play with you, a sibling or a friend. This helps younger ones manage a game that might otherwise be too difficult for them, especially with certain puzzle or combat sections. This co-op works especially well on Wii U, where the gamepad acts as a secondary screen so players don't have to worry about a split-screen if they get too far apart.
But while Lego Batman 3 is the most recent Lego game, there are umpteen others to be found if your kids prefer, say, The Hobbit, the Lego Movie or Marvel superheroes. There's also an amazing open-world Wii U game called Lego City Undercover that you should now be able to pick up for cheap.
Super Smash Bros. (Wii U, 3DS)
Nintendo's famed fighting franchise -- which has been making an otherwise ultraviolent genre pretty darn adorable since 1999 -- knocks out the best-reviewed new game of the year and a great multiplayer experience for kids, both online and on the couch.
It's a two-dimensional fighter like, say, Street Fighter, but populated with beloved Nintendo characters (Princess Peach, Pikachu, those Italian plumbers) and some third-party interlopers like Pac-Man.
If this sounds like pretty good nostalgia for parents who grew up on the original NES console, that's because it is -- you can even play as Donkey Kong or Punch Out's Little Mac.
The 3DS version, the franchise's first handheld edition, is perfect for kids on the go. This is especially true for long car rides as they can play against each other in the backseat using their own devices. Though the game can be a little chaotic on the tiny screen, the 3D effect helps, as does their unhampered-by-aging eyes.
But the high-def Wii U version is the series' ne plus ultra -- it even debuts a new 8-person multiplayer -- and has essentially endless replayability.
Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)
Here's another fun multiplayer game that Nintendo updates for every generation and gets the checkered flag pretty much each time. If you've played old Mario Kart games on older consoles, then you'll get how this one works.
It's an arcade racer that does away with the insane learning curves of older-skewing racing sims in favour of cartoonish absurdity. It also goes beyond go-karts by including motorbikes and ATVs and is populated by Super Mario's roster of characters, ranging from Bowser to Yoshi.
Mario Kart can be played solo and as online or local multiplayer, which can be more fun than racing the computer (there's no voice chat, so you don't have to worry too much about your child's online interactions). It can even be played on the Wii U screen if the TV is otherwise occupied.
There's also new downloadable content that adds several new characters, including Zelda's Link, as well as four new vehicles and eight new racetracks in addition to the 32 the game comes with.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (Wii U)
Toad is neither an amphibian nor a mushroom, despite his name and headgear, but the character made famous in the Super Mario series otherwise makes a lot of sense in his first namesake game.
A spinoff of a minigame in Super Mario 3D World, Captain Toad is a puzzle-platformer that adds spatial reasoning to the usual hand-eye coordination. Moving the camera around opens up new pathways to complete each maze-like level which is essentially its own giant puzzle to crack.
It may not be a classic, but it is a fun challenge for younger kids and adorable to boot.
Child of Light (Multiplatform)
Ubisoft's award-winning fairy tale is the year's best-looking game -- the Studio Ghibli-inspired hand-drawn art design makes it look like a painting come to life -- and refreshingly features a female protagonist.
The titular child of light is a red-headed girl named Aurora who becomes sick and wakes up in fairy land called Lemuria where she has to battle an evil queen to restore the land's sun, moon and stars and then make her way home to her father. The side-scrolling story is bolstered by rhyming dialogue, a soundtrack by hip Quebecois star Coeur de Pirate and a turn-based combat system that favours strategy over button-mashing. There's also a light co-op mode where a friend or sibling can assist.
Never Alone (Xbox One, PS4, PC)
This one is rated T for Teen due to violence, but it's no mindless shooter. Rather, it's an educational side-scroller that teaches gamers about the traditions of the northern Iñupiat people of Alaska. The goal is to "draw fully upon the richness of unique cultures to create complex and fascinating game worlds for a global audience." In this case, it's a puzzle-based platformer starring a girl, Nuna, and her Arctic fox companion, both of which are playable, as they try to stop an eternal blizzard. The game incorporates indigenous folktales and features 24 game-related mini-docs of Alaskan natives explaining their culture and traditions.
Pokemon Omega Ruby / Pokemon Alpha Sapphire (3DS)
If Pokemon seems likes it's been around forever, it's because it basically has. At no point since the franchise first appeared in 1996 have these pocket monsters lost their appeal to the kids. This is partly because every few years, a new pair of Pokemon games come out for Nintendo handhelds.
The latest duo of games are Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, which sold a combined three million copies on the first day of release, despite being 3DS upgrades of the Ruby and Sapphire games originally released for the Game Boy Advance in 2002. There is a plot of interest only to your kids that boils down to the player moving to the Hoenn Region, training various Pokemon and competing in the championship league in turn-based battles while also saving the world from the evil machinations of Team Magma and Team Aqua.
Project Spark (Xbox One)
Project Spark is a "world-building adventure game" that works much like Disney Infinity's toy box mode but with more complexity. It's a definite treat for kids who perhaps have been already building their own worlds in Minecraft.
Technically it's free, but really it's "freemium" which means that paying money can help speed things along as far as gather the in-game credits needed to buy items to build more elaborate levels. So the retail starter kit is a pretty good deal as you get $85 worth of content for $40, including premium sci-fi pack "Galaxies: First Contact," the warrior champion Sir Haakon "Hawk" the Knight, and the first episode the "Champions Quest: Void Storm" campaign.
Little Big Planet 3 (PS3, PS4)
This third iteration of the whimsically charming "Little Big Planet" puzzle-platformer franchise allows the makers to be even more imaginative with their readymade art design and intricate level construction. You once again run Sackboy through a series of 2.5D sidescrolling gauntlets, but they've now added three new playable characters, Toggle, OddSock and Swoop, and made the narrative matter more.
Of course, a "Little Big Planet" game doesn't end with the packed-in single-player and co-op levels. The series Create Mode helped popularize the gamemaker genre and the massively powered-up level editor allows your "Minecraft"-obsessed kids to create their own games in many genres as well as share them. Not to mention you can also play other people's levels which makes the game essentially endlessly.
Oh, and yes that is Stephen Fry narrating.